Updated: Mar 3, 2020
Today my oldest daughter and I are sharing a few days away from our good ordinary lives to be together in Sayulita, Mexico. Roosters wake me up before dawn, which is okay, because it lets me sit up in bed, pull the thin blanket up around my shoulders and begin the day watching the sun rise.
Yesterday we went swimming in the Pacific Ocean, that great body of water that covers more than a third of Earth's surface. We were, along with hundreds of other people, drawn to sea, that salty buoyant milieu that wraps us up, tosses us, and feeds us (and I don't mean simply fish). In an interview Brian Doyle says he took his novel, Plover, to the sea because:
We yearn for it. The salt water in us. We came out of small seas. It's open and vast and maternal and savage and dismissive and I think we starve for it sometimes. We go there when we are bleak and dark and just stare, don't we? We go there to calm down and listen and be at the edge of all things. I think there's really and truly some inchoate inner tuning fork in all of us set to the sea. Water's holy, and moving water is irresistible.
And so Rae and I allowed ourselves to be buffeted and tossed, yet held, too, in a primal way that reminds me of the incomprehensible largeness and wildness and goodness of God. We rented a boogie board and attempted (mostly unsuccessfully) to ride waves to shore. The thrill mostly came from working to get beyond the breaking waves. To strut against the giant pull of the moon, as it were, jumping at each cresting wave to keep our heads above water.
As a child swimming in the Gulf of Mexico my father showed my siblings and me how to dive into a breaking wave—to go under it to get to the other side. We'd feel the roiling water on our backs, and sometimes got caught up in a spin. Jumping or diving we made it to the other side and if, if we persisted long enough and far enough, we’d get to where the waves didn’t break, being weightlessly carried in a salty bosom, lifted and lowered as waves undulated their way to the shore.
Getting to calmer waters took a courageous kind of perseverance. Also some measure of confidence that we'd be safe enough in those deep waters.
As metaphor this does not need explaining.
Thinking of the Gulf of Mexico reminds me also of Dragon Lady, our loyal mutt who would swim beyond the farthest one of us and attempt to herd us back to solid ground. Her eyes held desperation. Didn't we know people (and dogs, too) drowned in such waters? Surely she felt anxiety for us. How could she not? Does the metaphor break down because we can drown in the deep waters that invite us to leave solid ground?
I am sitting with that just now. Wondering what Aslan from C.S. Lewis's stories of Narnia might say about it. I'm reminded of this conversation with Jill in The Silver Chair:
“Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion. "I am dying of thirst," said Jill. "Then drink," said the Lion. "May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill. The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic. "Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill. "I make no promise," said the Lion. Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. "Do you eat girls?" she said. "I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it. "I daren't come and drink," said Jill. "Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion. "Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then." "There is no other stream," said the Lion.”
As I said, I'm sitting with that just now.